Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/10/2016

In last week’s Roundup I mentioned the flooding in Europe and Texas. Huffington Post published a summary article with pictures about the events.  In addition, scientists have already determined that climate change increased both the likelihood and the severity of the flooding in France.

A few weeks ago the press paid a lot of attention to Native Americans in Louisiana who had to be relocated, making them the first climate refugees in the lower 48 states.  However, Native Americans in Alaska have been facing similar problems for quite some time.  Madeline Ostrander has an essay in Hakai Magazine about the Yup’ik people of Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta of Alaska.

Professor Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at Cambridge University, has predicted that the Arctic will be essentially ice free (less than 1 million sq km) in September of this year or next.  If not, at the very least a new record low will be set.  Other scientists disagree, although May 2016 experienced the lowest amount of sea ice in May ever, by a significant amount.

Alaska had the warmest spring on record.  In a new study using 87,000 images from Landsat satellites collected over 29 years, NASA has found that parts of Canada and Alaska are greening as a result of climate change.  Also in the Arctic, a retrospective study published in Nature Communications finds that during the summer of 2015 the northern part of Greenland was exceptionally warm due to a blocking pattern in the jet stream.  This led to greater than normal melting in northern Greenland, greater than in the south.

Scientists using elephant seals to carry instruments deep into Antarctic waters near glacial outlets have confirmed that warm circumpolar deep water is moving onto continental shelves where glaciers rest and melting their bases.

According to NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch bleaching has occurred on reefs near at least 38 countries or island groups in what is the most widespread coral bleaching event on record.

My sense of optimism is fortified whenever I run across innovative ideas that may someday provide us with energy without the use of fossil fuels.  One idea that has been in the press recently is the “bionic leaf” invented by Daniel Nocera of Harvard and Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School.  The latter was featured on Science Friday today and in case you missed it you can listen to it here.  The bionic leaf is just one example of “liquid sunlight”, which was written about by David Roberts at Vox.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has two interesting infographics; one is entitled “The Climate Risks of Natural Gas” while the other is about “Fugitive Methane Emissions.”  On Wednesday, a North Carolina environmental advocacy group, NC Warn, asked the EPA inspector general to investigate whether a dispute over the calibration of methane detectors used in an important study of methane emissions from oil and gas fields has risen to the level of fraud.  The Washington Post also reported on this issue.

When water and CO2 are pumped into basalt rock formations in the subsurface, chemical reactions occur that convert the CO2 into mineral forms, i.e., new rock.  Consequently, there is little possibility the CO2 will come back to the surface, providing a way to sequester the carbon.  Now, studies in Iceland have shown that the transformations occur rapidly, within 2 years, rather than decades or centuries, as feared.  How extensively this can be exploited for carbon sequestration and storage still must be determined.

In their meeting earlier this week, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached an important agreement that will facilitate elimination of the use of hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) as refrigerants in air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.  This is particularly important because HFCs are important greenhouse gases that are 10,000 times stronger than CO2 and are widely used in India and China, both of which are seeing large increases in air conditioner sales as a result of increasing affluence and a warmer climate.  Prime Minister Modi also addressed a joint session of Congress and announced several other initiatives important to fighting climate change.

Jim Pierobon has published an analysis of Dominion Virginia Power and solar energy in Southeast Energy News.  He also wrote about a meeting of a group of stakeholders hoping to establish proposals for solar energy for next year’s General Assembly.  Nationwide, 64% of the new electricity generating capacity that came on-line in the first quarter of 2016 was solar and the total installed capacity in 2016 is expected to be 14.5 gigawatts, almost double the amount installed in 2015.

Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors has written to DEQ objecting to the approval of a proposed wind farm in Botetourt County by its Board of Supervisors.  The proposers of that wind farm have said that they will take measures to minimize bat mortality, although scientists now say that the provisions used by the wind energy industry to reduce bat mortality may need to be strengthened.

Four states had sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, contending that it had not properly considered safety over the long term when it established the regulation allowing nuclear power plants to store spent fuel rods on-site indefinitely.  A federal appeals court rejected that argument.  Whether new nuclear power plants will be built in the future is a question being debated within power providers and environmental organizations alike.  For example, last week a debate about nuclear energy was held at Stanford University.  Andrew Revkin provides a commentary and a link to the YouTube archive of the debate.

Beyond Extreme Energy and other activist groups shining a light on FERC and the approval process for gas and oil pipelines are having an impact on the way they do business.  Activists and environmental organizations also have shown a light on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, revealing the negative impact it could have on environmental and climate rules.  This has led to a consortium of organizations calling on senators to reject the TPP when it comes to a vote this fall.

For-profit oil and gas pipeline companies are experiencing increasing scrutiny as they attempt to use eminent domain to secure right-of-way for new pipelines.  According to BP, because of lower coal use and sluggish growth CO2 emissions from energy consumption grew by only 0.1% last year, the smallest advance since 2009.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.


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